As Kevin Bazzana observes in his Toronto Symphony Orchestra program note, “there is no one definitive Messiah.”
It’s an ironic turn of phrase considering the religious implications one might give that phrase. Indeed when I look at the bizarre mockeries of Jesus’s Word that have the temerity to call themselves “Christian” nowadays? I take comfort in Handel’s many incarnations, whether in the reliable King James version texts or the various approaches to the music.
Tonight was the first of several TSO Messiahs to be heard at Roy Thomson Hall featuring the Mendelssohn Choir, Conductor Simon Rivard, and four terrific young soloists.
As we optimistically return to concert halls, I don’t anticipate quibbles from purists. We’re all so grateful for what we can get, whether they’re virtual operas or arias sung over beers in a bar-room, hymns from online services or sung alone.
This 85 minute version is the latest in a series of adaptations to the new normal. Chorus and orchestra, except for the wind players, were masked. They reduce the hall’s capacity, eliminating intermissions and reducing the onstage complement: all in the interest of safety. The by-products are a cleaner sound due to a better acoustic, and a more economical program.
There’s not a lot missing from this version, aided by Rivard’s brisk tempi and insistence on crisp articulation from the chorus and orchestra.
Soprano Anna-Sophie Neher, mezzo Rihab Chaieb, tenor Spencer Britten, and bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus sing all the important solos, often interpolating lovely cadenzas. I was grateful for their clear enunciation of the text.
The TSO Messiah continues until the weekend at Roy Thomson Hall, with matinees on both Saturday and Sunday. Click here for further information.